Yes, and… a large combo #6

Getting to the table was like wandering a urban hedge maze. The restaurant was composed of little rooms and little hallways and without a waiter / tracker, we would have surely been lost. We passed the plush plastic booths in the front room, the vintage tractor advertisements on the walls in the first hallways, passed the entry to the first room where the metal legs of the Formica tables beckoned. We turned down a hallway, passing a plastic plant, a low bench, and a bulletin board littered with advertisements for local guitar lessons, car services, dog walkers, and an occasional resume. Another turn at the statue of a sitting dog, through a low doorway and into a surprisingly large — almost cavernous — room with a scant 8 tables and big bay windows. I couldn’t figure out how we had resurfaced on the street side of the restaurant but that’s the thing about mazes, they’re intentionally disorienting. I was happy to have a window table.

It was raining outside. Of course it was raining outside. It wasn’t a wet and penetrating rain — while it was both characteristically wet and aggressively penetrating. It was softened, almost buoyed by an infusion of nostalgia that seemed to emulsify the rain. The suspension of nostalgia gave the rain and air mix a soft and warm pressure. Evenly applied and subtle but palpable. Thankfully, the alchemy continued within the air of the restaurant.

Russ made for a great dining companion. He is the living embodiment of the improv “yes, and…” principle — so much so that I have come to believe that the school of improv has derived this from his being rather than his study of improv has heightened this trait. Without consciousness, he listens to me, to the waiter, to the other tables, to the room, to the air, to the movement of time. Without consciousness, he repeats “yes, and…” He constructs a rich and elaborate world around him and simply shares it, gives it, and wanders through it with whoever else, whatever else is around. His invitations elicit participation and the fly wheel of experience turns. He doesn’t recognize that the emphasis on the shared world sometimes crowds out his own real needs and sometimes wants people to replace “yes, and…” with “tell me more.” I’ve never met someone as loved and respected as Russ, who gives as much of himself, and whom probably gets as little in return.

The food arrived with the same nostalgia infusion. Large Combo #6 — two enchiladas with rice and beans. The flavors were remarkably authentic although not authentically Mexican. Authentically Mama’s Mexican restaurant, with undertones of an early date with my wife, a night out in Belltown seeing bands, the spry legs and alcohol tolerance of my 20 something self. The portions seemed insurmountably large but the nourishment was so satisfying and the lack of any place to be meant that it was perfectly measured.

The room was empty so we talked loudly. We followed the lefts and rights of ideas and reactions, periodically backtracking to find the main path temporarily, just to jump off at the next juncture. We didn’t talk Trump, we didn’t talk Oscars, we chided people without celiac disease who are gluten free as jackasses. We laughed about me being gluten free even though I don’t have celiac disease.

The meal ended when the paths hit a plateau, the mountains of food were gone, and the hedge maze guide had returned to escort us out. The air outside was still thick but it was no longer raining. We followed our feet back towards the hotel, no particular path or cadence required. One step lead to another which led into the bar down the street. “Cocktails, frosty beers, lotsa pinball.” The bass player from Spinal Tap greeted us at the door, subtly doing double duty as the bouncer. Russ keenly picked up on this; I did not. I was already looking down the glorious long bar, reading the hotdog menu, and reflecting the lights of the tables made from old pinball machines.

Less of a hedge maze than the restaurant, the bar itself had rooms to discover. The front bar, dark, 80% regulars with ample leather, piercings, and a welcoming (enough) but not-to-be-bothered vibe. The game room with a mix of new and old pinball machines being played by a variety of first dates, casual drinkers, wanderers, and bar backs on break. A back bar with an almost nautical theme, large Naugahyde captain’s chairs as bar stools, two coin operated dart boards and a cohort of mid to late 30s locals (but not regulars) on the meet and greet. I didn’t notice that they all seemed to know each other.

I sang from my diaphragm — “Happy birthday to… this guy… Happy birthday to you!” The bartender was still making our gin and tonics when “this guy” had arrived to his surprise party and we discovered that everyone in the room actually did know each other. “This guy” was surprised, to be sure, and gave a little speech. “I thought there would be strippers!” he pined. “Give me a minute!” the bartender replied. There was cake and a missed opportunity to really embrace “yes, and…” with a warm group of strangers celebrating “this guys” birthday. Later I would apologize to Russ for ushering us out of the party once we received our drinks. “Oh — what? No, no problem,” he’d say and I knew he meant it. His world would continue to create outside of a crashed birthday party but we both felt the loss of a story not birthed.

We sat at a booth in the front bar, had our drinks and more, and followed paths through conversation. My skin expanded to drink in the nourishment of nostalgia, familiarity, creativity, and calm. Hours later, I left the bar two sizes larger, plump with satisfaction.

This is weight I don’t want to lose.